African-American

Calling on Thomas Merton for Racial Justice and Healing

Photo via Jim Forest / Flickr / RNS

Thomas Merton portrait by John Howard Griffin. Photo via Jim Forest / Flickr / RNS

If the influential Catholic writer Thomas Merton were alive today, he would likely have strong words about police brutality and racial profiling.

Back in 1963, Merton called the civil rights movement “the most providential hour, the kairos not merely of the Negro, but of the white man.”

His words echoed May 16 among black pastors at a conference, titled Sacred Journeys and the Legacy of Thomas Merton, hosted by Louisville’s Center for Interfaith Relations. The event marked the 100th anniversary of Merton’s birth.

What You're Not Allowed to Talk About in Washington

Jim Wallis and Lisa Sharon Harper speaking at the press conference. Photo: Brandon Hook/Sojourners

(Editors’ Note: Sojourners is running an ad in Rep. King’s district. Watch the ad and click here to learn more about it.)

Business leaders, law enforcement officials, and evangelical Christians—key constituencies that are typically part of the Republican base—have been at the forefront of immigration reform. Given the obvious benefits of, and broad public support for, immigration reform, why are many arch-conservatives in the House of Representatives refusing to address the issue in a serious way? The answer may point to an issue that we still hesitate to talk about directly: race.

Fixing our broken immigration system would grow our economy and reduce the deficit. It would establish a workable visa system that ensures enough workers with “status” to meet employers’ demands. It would end the painful practice of tearing families and communities apart through deportations and bring parents and children out of the shadows of danger and exploitation. And it would allow undocumented immigrants—some of whom even have children serving in the U.S. military—to have not “amnesty,” but a rigorous pathway toward earned citizenship that starts at the end of the line of applicants. Again, why is there such strident opposition when the vast majority of the country is now in favor of reform?

When I asked a Republican senator this question, he was surprisingly honest: “Fear,” he said. Fear of an American future that looks different from the present.

America’s Great Divide

Police squad car lights, Gila Photography / Shutterstock.com

Police squad car lights, Gila Photography / Shutterstock.com

When I was invited by the Drug Policy Alliance to  participate in a pastors’ conference at the American Baptist College in Nashville on drug decriminalization, I didn’t know quite what to expect. In a room filled with African-American pastors, I felt like a fly on the wall of someone else’s family reunion. I began to see our criminal justice system, and our country, through different eyes.

I’ve reported on the conference elsewhere, but there I learned that while 13 percent of drug users are African-American, they account for 38 percent of drug arrests and 59 percent of drug convictions. Feeling disproportionately targeted, the pastors want drug usage to be treated as a health issue rather than a crime. 

As the conference unfolded, it dawned on me that I, as part of the majority culture, perceive law enforcement in ways strikingly different from the way many African-Americans see it. I have always experienced American authorities as my protector. If the police pull me over for speeding, it is nothing more than an annoyance, and the ticket won’t break me. Though I’m no fan of traffic cameras and drones, for the most part the police are there to watch out for me, and they do. It has always been that way for my family, as we can trace our roots of privilege back to Northern Europe in the early 1500s. Those in charge are the good guys who protect us and our stuff.

But for these African-American pastor-friends of mine, it’s a different story.

Pastor Poised to Be First African-American to Lead Southern Baptists

The Rev. Fred Luter via Franklin Ave Church website, http://www.franklinabc.com.

The Rev. Fred Luter via Franklin Ave Church website, http://www.franklinabc.com.

After months of urging from other Baptists around the country, the Rev. Fred Luter told his African-American congregation that he will seek to become the first black man to lead the predominantly white Southern Baptist Convention.
   
Several Baptist leaders said Luter becomes the prohibitive favorite for the post, to be filled in a potentially historic election at the Southern Baptists' annual meeting in New Orleans in June.
   
SBC Today, a Baptist-focused news website, carried the announcement on earlier this week. Youth pastor Fred "Chip" Luter III separately confirmed Luter's announcement to his church last Sunday.
   
Luter appears to be the first candidate to declare for the post, which will become vacant this summer when the Rev. Bryant Wright of Marietta, Ga., finishes his second one-year term.
   
Many began openly promoting Luter for the top job last summer, moments after he was elected the convention's first African-American first vice president.

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